New blood test answers painful questions

October 2, 2003

Brussels, 01 Oct 2003

A new blood test promises to feel patients' pain and give doctors an objective measure of exactly how much they are hurting, UK research claims.

A simple blood test may help doctors overcome communication problems with unconscious patients, children and others unable to describe their pain precisely. The assay may even revolutionise pain research by giving physicians their first ever scientific measure of pain. "To have an objective value is the scientific gold standard," the test's inventor Shaun Kilminster, a pain researcher and external consultant at the Royal Surrey County Hospital (UK), was quoted by New Scientist as saying.

Kilminster does not claim to have cracked the biological basis of pain. Rather, his blood test detects the pain a person is suffering by measuring the relative presence of three neurotransmitters – chemicals that convey messages between nerve cells – in the blood. Spurred by commercial considerations, the UK doctor has not yet revealed precisely which neurotransmitters his test gauges.

The anatomy of pain

The test was recently showcased at the UK Medical Future Innovation Awards and Kilminster is now seeking partners to investigate just how widely the test can be applied. His research, which has yet to be published, suggests that the test works for identifying people with headaches.

In trials involving 30 people with mild headaches and 30 without, the test successfully recognised all the men with headaches and 93% of the women. Although other researchers in the field admit a pain test would be a very useful tool, they doubt whether a reliable one can actually be developed before scientists have uncovered the physiological secrets of pain. One specialist predicted that this simple examination of three chemicals might only work for headaches.

Medical and health research are important prongs of the EU's research strategy. The Sixth Framework Programme has set aside over €2 billion for research into the life sciences and biotechnology, and a further €685 million for food quality and safety.

DG Research
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